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The Choreography of Trial Preparation
By Barbara J. Ebenstein, Esq.
Choreography is the art of making dances. The choreographer arranges movement, lights, and sound in a deliberate manner to convey a concept, set a mood, or tell a story.
Trial preparation is like a choreography in that it is a deliberate arrangement of elements to convey a concept and tell a story from a particular point of view. Both choreography and trial practice rely on the skill of a performer, either a dancer or litigator, to effectively communicate with an audience or a hearing officer.
Spontaneity and Simplicity
(W)hen the dancer is at the peak of his power, he has two lovely, fragile, perishable things. One is spontaneity, . . . the other is simplicity. . . ” Martha Graham, A Dancer’s World,
a film produced by Nathan Kroll
Successful trial practice requires those same two attributes. The litigator’s need for spontaneity is obvious to anyone who has participated in a hearing or trial. She must object to inadmissible evidence, change prepared cross and redirect examination based upon direct testimony given, and constantly revise plans based on what is happening in the proceeding. The litigator must live in the moment.
The litigator’s need for simplicity is perhaps less obvious but equally important. She must keep the story simple, the facts coherent, and the issues specific in order to communicate clearly.
A college student once asked me to recommend a course that he should take to prepare for law school. My immediate reply was, “Choreography.” He chortled, but I was serious.
As a former dancer/college dance professor/ choreographer turned attorney, I know that choreography and trial preparation are both creative endeavors and that the creative process is identical whether you choreograph a dance, paint a picture, compose music, sew a quilt, or prepare for a trial. Only the medium is different. The choreographer’s chief medium is movement, the artist works with paint, the composer uses sound, the quilter works with fabric, and the litigator uses information derived from documents and the testimony of witnesses.